This weekend could not have been better! It could have been enough that I was in beautiful California, enjoying great company, fabulous views, incredible food, and more — but add to that a fantastic marathon experience, and you have one hell of a weekend. In case you need to catch up, you can find all of my posts on training for the Napa Valley Marathon here!
In case you don’t want a super detailed re-cap
- Finishing time: 3:29:53. HELLO BOSTON! The goal was 3:34:07. Check!
- I felt great almost the entire way — mile 24 it got hard, but not enough to change my pace at all. Just needed to focus a bit harder!
- My fan club (Mom, Derek, Pete, Deidra) hopped all over the course, bringing me gels/gatorade, and plenty of encouraging words. Thanks, everyone!
- I’m really stiff today! Walking around San Francisco means bumbling along the flattest route I can find, which is in reality not flat at all, and looking like a total baboon.
For those of you interested in every last minutia of the race!
You all know that I was getting nervous WEEKS ago for this race. I was confident I could finish, and finish in under 4 hours no problem; however, I wasn’t totally sure I could meet my goal of 3:34:07. I had no real data to back up this goal, or experience, or idea of how my mental/physical strength would be after 20 miles. Everyone talks about hitting the wall around mile 20, and having to really push through for the last 6 miles. I didn’t know how I would handle that.
I tapered really well, eating plenty of good food and sleeping as much as I needed to. I spent time stretching and, with the exception of a worrisome hip pain, felt really good physically. We spent Friday and Saturday running all over Napa to the expo, errands, wineries, airports (to pick up my mom!), etc. which made me a bit nervous — I wanted to put my feet up! — but come Sunday morning, I felt ready.
We had to be on the shuttle (which luckily left directly from our hotel) at 5:15. I, being perpetually early for everything, wanted to be there at 5. That meant waking up at 4:15, double checking everything (shoes? hair ties? sunglasses? GPS WATCH!?), stuffing as much food into my body as I could, and leaving our fans sleeping peacefully in their beds. After a long, dark, bus-ride, we arrived at the start (in Calistoga, CA) around 6:10. Part of me wanted to hang out on the warm bus for half an hour, but I knew I needed to go check out the bathroom scene — which notoriously has long lines.
I had planned to do a warmup consisting of 5 minutes slow jog, 5 minutes stretching, and another 5 minutes jogging; however, the growing bathroom lines worried me so I only got in 5 minutes of jogging, then half-heartedly stretched in the bathroom line. I made it out and to the start with just a few minutes to spare, lined up maybe 100 rows back, and was NOT ready for the gun to go off! But it did, and we inched forward.
As this was a very small race (2,600 runners, I think), there was no organization in the start. No pace flags/corrals, etc. This meant that my first mile was spent running around the hundreds of slower runners in front of me. A bit frustrating, but honestly a good thing for my pace (which was supposed to be slow for the first few miles). First mile was 8:12, 8 seconds faster than planned, but still slower than my goal-pace: good.
The first six miles had the rolling hills, which I had been so nervous about (especially after driving the course). They certainly were hilly, more so than anything I really trained on, but really presented no issues. I slowed down going up, sometimes even to a 9:00 pace, but made it up on the downhills with very little effort. I had to keep telling myself not to push it, because going out too fast or putting too much effort into hills early on really comes back to bite me later.
[Are you a data nerd? Here’s my full garmin info!]
After mile 6 it flattened out a bit, and I just kept cruising at a pace that felt comfortable — all of those miles were between 7:53 and 8:00 pace. I saw my fans/support crew at miles 3 and 7, ate my first two gels at 4 and 8, and just kept reminding myself that I was feeling awesome. I was! I would go through my checklist to see how everything was feeling: legs, IT bands, hips, breathing. All of it felt fresh.
I forget where I next saw my support crew (mile 12? 14?), but the miles kept ticking by. I actually didn’t even realize I had passed mile 12 when I arrived at mile 13, then the half-marathon mark. By this time, I knew I was on schedule to run a 3:30. My time at the half was just under 1:45, and I was still feeling great. Feeling great, but also kind-of in disbelief that I could keep the pace up for another 13.1 miles. I tried not to get excited about breaking 3:30 (which was my secret goal!), and convinced myself to still be happy meeting my 3:34 goal.
Immediately after the half there were some long, gradual hills (miles 14 and 16), which frustrated me a little bit. I knew I was running a bit slower, and didn’t remember why until I realized where I was: THE LONG HILLS. They were very gradual, nothing to really worry about, but I know that even a slight grade really impacts my pace. I reminded myself that I had a superb buffer, and even if I only ran 8:20 I would be fine. I ended up running both of those “slow” miles at 8:12, totally fine.
I think I last saw Derek and the support crew around mile 17, at which point my feet were starting to hurt, but my legs were still doing fine. I took another gel, drank a lot of gatorade (it’s nice having a fiance who runs alongside with an always-full bottle of gatorade!), and told Derek I loved him as he turned around to get back to the car and drive to see me at mile 24. This was the longest gap between visits, and it was the loneliest stretch of the marathon. The runners were spread out enough that I wasn’t always directly next to someone, and the course didn’t do anything of note (a few mild hills, but generally very straight).
At mile 23 we turned off the old highway (our first turn of the race), and ran up a gorgeous tree-lined road, at the end of which I could hear Derek’s vuvuzela calling me. Honestly, I had a really hard time holding back tears for most of that mile. Not because I was in pain or tired, but because I was REALLY happy and emotional: I was doing it! I was feeling fresh and strong! I was going to finish sub-3:30! Derek’s excitement at mile 24 was possibly just as much as mine, and I had to tell him to leave me alone so he could get to the finish in time! I kept passing other runners, not letting a single person pass me in the last 10 miles until a guy sprinted past me at the finish. Totally fine with me: he must have been running too slow the rest of the time.
The last 2 miles were the hardest: I ran 7:59 and 7:58, and knew I was cutting it close. I HAD to keep my pace sub-8, otherwise I wasn’t sure I’d make it in under 3:30. This was by far the most boring part of the course: not as pretty and not quite as many fans (until the final .5). I really had to focus to keep myself from dipping below 8, which I’m sure I did plenty of times, then had to think hard about my running form to get my pace back up. I rounded the corner at mile 26 to see Derek one last time, cheering me into the finish with some incredible enthusiasm. My final .26 miles were at a 7:23 pace, which tells me I really didn’t have a ton left. I can usually manage a 5:30 pace if I’m “sprinting” in at the end of a longer run: not so with the marathon! Some people sprint it in, but I like to think that my only mildly faster finish is a testament to the fact that I used my energy wisely during the race, not saving it for an unnecessarily fast finish.
I crossed the line feeling tired but great, not keeling over like the two finishers directly in front of me, and again really had to hold back tears. Did I seriously just demolish my goal? Is this real life? Wasn’t I supposed to hit the wall six miles ago and struggle along to the end? Why am I complaining about that, of all things? Overall, I had a very easy race. I know that isn’t what most people want to hear, but I felt comfortable and confident the entire time. The miles flew by, fast enough that I was surprised how quickly the race was going. I remember thinking at mile 18 that I felt like I was just getting going — like the first 18 miles are the warmup for the last 8. They kind of are, but 6 of the last 8 didn’t get any harder for me. My preparation must have worked!
The rest of the day was spent brunching, travelling back to San Francisco, and trying not to hobble around too ridiculously. Derek and Becky (who PRed by 2 minutes!) flew back to Bozeman, and Mom and I made our way across the city to our hotel. Early bedtime was essential, but today we woke up early and have walked at least 6 miles around the city today. Oy. I’m in need of a good long stretch (which I’ve really not actually done yet. Oops).
The biggest thing I’ve learned from the last few months of training for, and racing, a marathon is simply not to limit myself. I can thank Derek entirely for this: his constant support and belief that I’m better than I think I am has pushed me to achieve things I never imagined possible. Without him, I probably would have just set a goal to be sub-4 in the marathon. It’s not a bad goal, and I would have felt great achieving it; however, he knew I could do better. He always tells me not to aim for mediocrity (note: I’m not saying a 4 hour marathon is mediocre), and although I was really skeptical in this particular instance, he is right. I’m so grateful to have him supporting my goals from all angles — physically helping me prepare and execute on race day, mentally prepping me and bolstering my confidence, and even on a deeper (I hesitate to say spiritual) level, knowing and insisting on my capabilities. I’m a lucky girl to have not only him, but the rest of the positive supporters in my life. Thanks so much to all of you!1